"The two guys fighting are my brothers. When the round is over, the fight is over." - Harold Buck
"How can you give a man a round when he's on the ropes, when he's in a shell, totally defensive?" - Lou Tabat
"What if he ran around the ring like a sprinter, and every once in a while threw a punch?" - Art Lurie
These were the three men who determined the fate of Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks Wednesday - and you may have noticed that their philosophy of styles and the role of champion and challenger had much to do with why the heavyweight title was lost on a decision for the first time in 43 years.
Buck is the investment loan officer of a bank, Tabat the constable of North Las Vegas Township, Lurie the owner of a discount liquor store. They are ordinary men who judged the extraordinary night when Ali lost without getting knocked out.
"Right after the decision was announced." Tabat said yesterday morning, "I said to myself, "This is history. I just made history."
Indeed he had. Although other fighters, Ken Norton and Jimmy Young, appeared to have beaten Ali on other title fights - and perhaps by a wider margin than Spinks - Tabat and Buck were the first two judges with the courage to certify a defeat.
All three were in a reflective mood yesterday, revealing the whys of their decisions and - in separate interviews - the ironies that helped make the night even more memorable. The man who gave Spniks the widest margin of victory has an autographed picture of Ali near his desk; the only former fighter gave the decision to Ali.
"Boy, you're a big shot," one of the women in Tabat's office said. "You just put Ali right where he belongs."
Lurie, who gave the decision to Ali by a point, 143-142, joked: "I went to have breakfast with my cronies this morning, and when I sat down they all walked away. I got a call from a friend in L.A. who said he's sending me a seeing eye dog."
One of Lurie's employes said, "He's the ex-judge. We just fired him."
Each of the men received $500 for his work, each has been judging fights at least 11 years, each has judged a previous fight involving either Ali Spinks, each may have been picked because he abhors even rounds, and each insists he kept no running total of his score.
"When the announcer said split decision," said Lurie, "I had a feeling Spinks would be the winner. Those two judges. They really have a different style of judging than I do. Just to give you an idea how controversial I am. I gave the fight to Young when he fought Norton."
Lurie worked the previous two Spinks fights, against Scott LeDoux and Alfio Righetti, and based on those two performances "didnt thing he had a chance against Ali. When people would come in the store and ask me, I told them maybe Ali is sorry for the (Spinks) family and wants to give them a payday."
Although he had Ali the overall winner, Lurie said he judged Spinks the winner of the final two rounds "very big. If the fight went a half-minute longer, I think Ali would have hit the deck. In my opinion, this is the worst beating has taken in all of his fights."
All judges agreed that Spinks won the first three rounds and the final three rounds. Buck and Lurie agreed that Ali won rounds eight through 12. Tabat, who scored it 145-150 but had Spinks winning 10 rounds, said, "The margin could have been wider.
"I can't stand a guy on the ropes and covering up and rolling and coming up with nothing . . . If you're a champion, you've got to go out and fight. The champion has got to show more class than challenger. That's what the championship is all about."
But the history of heavyweight title fights has been just the opposite. Ever since Jim Braddock, a 15-to-1 shot, decisioned Max Baer in June, 1935, the champion always has gotten the benefit of the doubt. The challenger has had to take the title, to, in effect, show more class than the champ.
"You're supposed to beat the champ," said Lurie, adding, "To be a judge, you can't let a man's style affect your opinion," and, in reference to Tabat's 145-140 decision, "Did you really think it was a five-point fight?"
When he was complimented for so readily volunteering his opinions, Lurie said, "I'm glad to get it off my chest."
The three men know each other well. In fact, Buck provided Lurie's phone number and the social judgment, "He's a peachy keen guy."
There was no great fuss in the office when Tabat arrived promptly at 9 yesterday morning. He is a balding man of 54 who wears glasses, a 10-gallon hat and a sidearm. From all the certificates and plaques that fill nearly two walls, he is a member of every civic organization west of the Rockies.
The only phone call during a half-hour interview came from his son, Dale, in Reno, and Tabat said, "If Ali had won that fight, we'd have had a riot. You can't please everybody. You've got to do what you see."
The picture of Tabat and Ali was taken when he and the then-champ sat next to one another during the Young-Norton fight. All penned no greeting, merely his name.
Tabat said he learned at midnight Tuesday he would be working the fight and that hardly anyone in the crowd, many of whom he knew, gave him any attention immediately after the decision. He said he regarded his scoring as not especially courageous, adding, "I could care less who the fighters are."
In truth, the judges could not possibly be as passionate about boxing as they are and yet not have home feeling for Ali. As Buck put it, "You do what you're supposed to do. If I'm on the clappin' side, fine. If I'm on the booin' side, well, I can look at myself in the mirror the next morning.
"With all due respect to everybody, it was my opinion that during that rope-a-dope stuff instead of hitting Ali's gloves, like most everyone else has done, Spinks was getting through that peeka-boo thing. And wacking him on the chin.
"That's all points."
Buck said he first met Ali before his knockout of Floyd Patterson in September, 1972, "and since then I don't thing he knows my name as Harold, but he always says hi and we shake hands. I think he was a great champion. I also think he knew better than anyone else that he got beat."